Friday, May 26, 2017

How has Vinyasa Yoga Become Popular Globally?

vinyasa yoga
By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500

In the modern world, the term "yoga" has become something of a catch-all term, which encompasses a dizzying array of styles, practices, techniques and even environments. Just a few of the many types of yoga practiced today are Vinyasa, Hatha, Prenatal, Hot, Therapeutic, Restorative and Yin Yoga.

Each style of yoga has a very different aim or goal, from meditation and centering to muscle development to aerobic activity. One of the most popular yogic techniques in the modern world is vinyasa yoga. Some might argue, however, that what makes it so popular is contrary to the original intent and purpose of yoga. Yoga was developed as a means of helping practitioners balance, focus and center on what is within, rather than the exterior world around us. Yoga is intended to be a physical, mental and spiritual practice. 

This concept is a somewhat foreign one in chaotic modern cultures where people frequently pride themselves on how busy and/ or exhausted they are. Thus, it should come as no surprise that it was predominantly in the cities that vinyasa yoga rose to such popularity. Although, ironically, the city dwellers that probably need what yoga in its most ancient form provides, are the ones that reject it for its more modern flowing form.

Vinyasa yoga is also known as vinyasa flow because of the way in which one pose flows quickly into another. Other forms of yoga focus on deepening into a pose, stretching further, opening hips, aligning the spine and even centering spiritually. It should be noted that while vinyasa yoga is intended to move smoothly from one pose to another, it is meant to focus heavily on aligning breath with movement.

An argument could be made, however, that vinyasa yoga today has shifted the focus entirely away from being a centering practice to being solely for the purposes of increasing heart rate and working up a sweat. As a result, vinyasa yoga, which is generally the most aerobically challenging of all types of yoga, is also the most popular among fitness buffs and rising in popularity across the globe. Possibly as a result of the growing influence on an obsession with physical fitness.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the popularity of the vinyasa discipline per se, it could potentially have a negative impact on the broader goals of yogic practice. Here are three potentially negative outcomes to the rise of classes that focus so strongly on extreme physical fitness rather than the overarching goals yoga is meant to achieve.

1. Takes focus away from people that need what yoga has to offer the most

Yoga is a phenomenal, low impact way for people who are severely overweight or out-of-shape to start the long journey back to health and fitness. The version of vinyasa yoga practiced by fitness crazed practitioners, however, is essentially designed for people who are already in excellent shape. This can make it difficult for overweight and out-of-shape people to find classes that focus more on the slower, gentler poses and rhythms that would be most beneficial to them.

2. Can further injure people looking to yoga for injury recovery

One of the most popular reasons for practicing yoga is to recover from back injuries, keep the spine aligned and promote overall skeletal health. The fast pace at which vinyasa techniques move from one pose to another can actually cause further injury to spines and skeletal structures already out of alignment.

3. Takes focus away from possibly the most needed aspects of yoga

On the whole, modern practitioners outside of India seem to be uncomfortable with the spiritual aspects of yogic practice, which modern vinyasa probably focuses on the least. In reality, however, in the fast-paced, high-stress world, the spiritual aspects, centering asanas may be the most needed.

To answer the question of how vinyasa took off so well: The modern practitioner is usually a young female who uses technology, has a full schedule, and needs to reduce stress as soon as possible. Yoga in motion is the perfect solution. Vinyasa is here to stay and as practitioners mature the deeper aspects of Yoga will be realized.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Opening Up Yoga Class in New Ways - 2 to Try

proceeding into warm-ups
By Kathryn Boland 

Have you noticed yourself, or other teachers, opening up class in the same Child’s Pose or Easy Pose? Are you searching for ways to open up class that will be grounding and comforting for your students, but also pique their interests while potentially teaching them something new? We teachers learn and grow through reaching out of our comfort zones, and experimenting (with proper judgement and caution) with new methods and content. 
At the same time, students can learn and grow through those offerings. All involved can walk steadily on the path of the yogic lifestyle, ever closer to our highest selves. What better place to start all of that than the beginnings of our classes? Read on for two ways to open up classes with a balance of grounding and energy, those which you might not yet have thought of or tried. Shanti! 

1) Crocodile Pose

Starting classes prone, on the belly, can be a grounding and relaxing way for opening up classes. On the other hand, it can feel vulnerable to some students - particularly those who have histories of trauma. If you are working with a specific population of students who might very well have trauma history (such as mental health patients, the incarcerated, those in certain social services agencies), perhaps this might not be the wisest of options. 
All people potentially have trauma history, however, so offer students alternatives (such as Child’s Pose, Easy Pose, or any of the following options). Otherwise, have students lie on their bellies, with one hand on top of the other to make pillows for their heads. 

As an optional energetic cue, guide them to soften their frontsides and let that release seep into their backsides. Breathing while prone can be more restricted than in other positions, so inform them that they can breathe into their backsides (a strange idea, but anatomically logical, as the lungs can expand into one’s posterior side). 

Options for proceeding into warm-ups in movement include gentle, low Cobra pose, Sphinx Pose with rolling the head side to side, and bending the knees to windshield-wiper the feet or roll the ankles. From Prone, one can smoothly transition into Tabletop, Plank, or Down Dog (though be mindful that it’s still early in class, and to proceed slowly and cautiously). 

2) Supported Hero’s Pose 

This option can allow students to connect with fuller breath, greater spinal length, and connection to “core center”/midline - right at the beginning. If they can maintain any/all of those connections throughout class, they can enjoy a more fruitful and rich practice. That carried through to subsequent classes can mean greater benefit of students’ yoga practices in their lives. 

Many students need to sit on one or more blocks (at the lowest and widest position, in between their ankles) in order to maintain safe, natural spinal alignment in this pose. Warm-up options here include head (side to side swings), shoulder, and wrists. Gentle movement to transition into fluidly could be a seated Cat/Cow flow (mild backbend and forward curve), Urdhva Hastana (Upward Reach), sidebend variations (with numerous mudras possible), and twist (bound or unbound, arms raised shoulder height or touching thighs or floor/block). 

Within reason, good judgement, and regard for students’ desires and needs, enjoy experimenting with variations of any of the above. Your students might very well treasure experiencing the grounded energy, the upward lift and downwards stability, that starting in Hero’s Pose can offer. As always, inform students that they are free to enter alternatives that might better suit them. 
In addition, be prepared to work individually with a student who calls you over for assistance, or whom you notice looks uncomfortable. The beginning of class is not quite the place for healthy challenge. It’s a time to settle into the experience, away from the frenzy of everyday modern life, and prepare for the healthy challenges ahead. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yoga Poses for Chronic Back Pain

yoga poses for chronic back pain
By Faye Martins 
The American Chiropractic Association states that 80% of people will experience a back problem in the course of their lives. Studies suggest that about 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain, and it is the most common disability for people worldwide. Chronic back pain can impact a person’s quality of life, but a strong asana practice can relieve some of these symptoms.

Things to Remember

Age, occupation, prior injury, and spinal disease can affect a person’s pain level and mobility. Yogic methods can work for students in every situation, but some asanas may not be suitable for some conditions. Students must consult with physicians about injuries to determine what is safe. Yoga teachers are not doctors, but we can adapt our instruction to fit within medical recommendations.

Almost any asana can be beneficial for spinal health. Some of the most common postures in class are excellent ways to decrease chronic back pain and increase spinal mobility. For all of the postures that follow, using props such as blocks, blankets, and bolsters, or adding the support of a wall can increase their restorative properties.

Mountain Pose

To the outsider, mountain pose looks easy, but a carefully executed tadasana can be challenging. Mountain pose improves posture, which is a great starting point for eliminating chronic back pain. Many people go through their entire day with poor posture, and over time the spine changes shape to accommodate chronic slouching and hunching. Mountain pose also provides relief for sciatica. 

Cat Pose/ Cow Pose

Starting a warm up with a few rounds of cat-cow sets students up for success. Many people sit with their spine in a fixed position for several hours, whether they are in a car or at a desk. Cat-cow breaks up the monotony and awakens the spine with gentle flexion. 

Downward Facing Dog

As one of the mainstays of the asana practice, downward dog can be excellent for chronic back pain. This asana puts students in a position that is the opposite of sitting. In this gentle inversion, spinal muscles get a gentle stretch, and by encouraging axial extension, the cervical spine also benefits.

Extended Side Angle

In addition to creating a nice lateral stretch along the side-body, extended side angle can relieve lower back pain and sciatica. It is essential to avoid collapsing into this shape in order to receive the full benefit.

Eagle Pose

Garudasana provides a challenge while also promoting spinal health. The position of the arms provides a stretch through the thoracic spine and shoulders, while wrapped legs relieve tension in the lower back. 

Staff Pose

Dandasana is another asana which appears to be simple, but practitioners will notice the challenge that comes with maintaining a straight line from the crown of the head to the tailbone. This is an excellent pose for strengthening back muscles and improving posture.

Half Lord of the Fishes

Not only is ardha matsyendrasana great for your posture, but it can also relieve backaches. The effectiveness of this position relates directly to a practitioner’s ability to deepen the pose through the breath rather than force. This asana encourages axial rotation of the entire spine.

Supine Twist

In terms of relieving back pain, the supine twist is a tour de force. The twisting action releases tension in the lower back, and it offers a stretch across the length of the spine. 

Chronic back pain affects many of us, but yogic practices can promote spinal health and alleviate pain. Students who practice these postures regularly will notice a difference on the mat and in everyday life. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Yoga Teachers and Entrepreneur Too!s

Entrepreneur Too!s
By Kathryn Boland

Do you notice how the shifting nature of yoga practice in the West is opening up opportunities for new health/wellness enterprises? Have you dreamt up such an enterprise that brings together yogic practice/other wellness practice and your unique passions and interests? Perhaps you’re unsure of how to get started? I’ll detail the building and operations of a unique health/wellness business that demonstrates a true actualization of passion, and through that true seva (selfless service).
Angela Gentile (Boston, MA) had had it. She’d been teaching high school for eleven years, and she needed a change. She decided to bring to life her graduate school thesis - TEACH Fitness, a fitness and wellness program specifically for teachers, offering classes right in different school locations. She describes the program as “community fitness and workout experience, allowing participants to take risks in a safe and supportive environment for their own growth and greatness!” She was (and is) a skilled Bootcamp teacher and Personal Trainer. She took the leap to leave the security of her educator position, and set off to build her enterprise.

She recounts this process as follows, which sheds light on the powerful effects of following one’s own passion and intuition. “I was feeling so overwhelmed”, she shares, “and could not look at anymore student data or my head was going to explode! So, I needed a way to get myself balanced, centered and outside, moving as much as I could, which lead to the idea of running a wellness program at my school. Once we were finished with the grad research, my colleagues wanted the program to continue, so I was like…I may be onto something!”

Yes, she was. But, at the same time, the challenges have been numerous. School higher-ups can be vague, unresponsive, and return necessary paperwork months after promised. At some locations, she’s not certain where to store equipment for her classes, or if the room typically used will be unlocked. Particularly in settings like an all-boys’ school with a majority male staff, she is not given the respect she deserves as a woman building her own business. Exceedingly mixed levels and lack of clarity on what students are truly looking for from classes are common.
Angela did, however, grow her enterprise to the point where she could hire a second teacher - yours truly. I’ve seen her passion for offering students not only a workout, but an experience of working towards greater wellness and time for themselves (as teachers and working parents, as Angela has articulated, for many of them this is the only time in their days that they’re not looking after a child!).

Something tells me she wouldn’t access that authentic passion if she had never left her high school position. And the teacher-students, judging by their smiles and gracious words, truly value the classes. That outcome most likely wouldn’t have come to be if Angela had never taken the risk she did. As they are guardians and growth agents of our next generation, teachers’ wellness truly matters for our communities and for our world at large.

Angela describes how “the health benefits of regular exercise are endless and can lower the amount of sick time and also increase alertness and productivity at work. But most importantly, teachers are modeling behavior for positive self care, practicing self worth and setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for their students.” She’s not the only one recognizing these benefits. Her enterprise is steadily growing, with further school contracts and hires in the works.

It’s similar, in different ways, for populations you might be passionate about serving. My first suggestion would be to start from a knowledgeable place. Angela knew about teachers’ lives, needs, and desires, as well as the workings of schools. If you might not be in such a position, do research and/or obtain consulting. It’s invaluable knowledge that will help you frame, launch, maintain, and grow your fitness/wellness business, as well as adjust to problems as they arise (and, per Murphy’s Law, they inevitably will).

Next, make your terms clear. The more you make known what you need - firmly, yet politely and diplomatically - the more professional credibility you will acquire. That’ll help propel your fledgling enterprise. It also helps ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of (and that often happens not out of ill will, but out of lacking awareness for what you do truly need). For instance, Angela has made clear that students need to be on time and ready for class at class start time, or they’ll get shorter classes.

She has always stopped at the designated end time, even if students were late or casually dilly-dallied around starting (such as in being chatty, et cetera). This choice has sent the clear message that she wouldn’t allow for her having to wait around before classes, time that she isn’t paid for and might be cutting into paid responsibilities she has after these classes. Remember also that actions speak louder than words. Policies are just words on paper (or, with even less sway, out of our mouths) if they’re not enforced. But, to maintain good will, do make sure a policy has been clearly expressed - and understood - before enforcing it.

That funnels into a last recommendation, to not only allow for open lines of communication, but to actively create them. Angela has always been very clear, helpful, and inspiring with her feedback for me. In several ways, this has helped me to better serve the students at each site - different from each other, and diverse within those separate groups. She also sent a survey to all registered teacher-students, which revealed clear trends about their ongoing desires and needs. We talked over how to best implement the survey feedback over a pleasant lunch.

Time will tell if our proposed adjustments will be effective, but we’ve made our best effort. We’ve set in place steps to best serve our clientele. Preparing with know-how, making terms clear, and transparency are a few of the many necessary ingredients for creating and growing a successful fitness/wellness enterprise. And some things one can only learn by trial and error, the hard way.

But few things - dare I say nothing - are more fulfilling, as well as wellness-inducing, as offering a unique and needed service while having control over your own workdays. In Angela’s words, “1. Assess your life: make a list of 5 things you want to do everyday. If you are NOT doing those 5 things then you have to make a change! 2. Just jump.” Shanti, shanti, shanti in your courageous endeavors, dear readers.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yoga Exercises for Preventing Back Pain 

preventing back pain
By Faye Martins

The human back is a miraculous assembly of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves. Backs should be both incredibly strong and supremely flexible at the same time. The back supports the whole body from the neck, through the upper back into the lower and then to the bottom of the spine. We use it for every single movement we make. If your back is hurting nothing seems to go right. Your back is the entire support system for your body and keeping it strong and supple is important for your overall wellbeing.

“You’re only as young as your spine is flexible,” this quote was said repeatedly by Richard Hittleman in his 1970s PBS television series, “Yoga For Health.” He was one of the first people to bring the ancient science of yogic methodology into living rooms across the United States. Now, 50 years later, yoga has mushroomed into a movement of health and spirituality practiced by millions of people at all levels of adeptness. Yoga is one methodology that focuses attention on the back. There are many postures or asanas that strengthen it and keep it supple. Once you know the basic movements yoga is a gentle way to wake up in the morning, stretch after sitting or to wind down after a hectic day. 

The entire body benefits from these traditional yogic asanas. From the head to the feet, there is a beneficial posture. Yoga is inclusive, benefiting the whole body. But sometimes our backs need special attention. Here are some classic yogic exercises that can strengthen, stretch and tone your back to prevent pain and to ensure you can move and play at will.

Cat/Cow pose – This exercise is done on the hands and knees. The stretching and curving in this asana helps slowly and surely to work out the kinks in your back.

Downward Facing Dog – Getting into this triangular pose is a great stress reliever. Holding this position helps your back relax and let go of tightness. This inverted posture allows blood to flow into the head while at the same time it stretches the back muscles.

Cobra/Locust/Bow – These three complementary movements are centered on strengthening the back. You alternately tense and rest the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. This is an advanced posture so go easy and rest in between. The Cobra/Locust/Bow is yoga at its finest.

Head to Knee Forward Bend (Also known as alternate Leg Stretches) - This is a wonderful asana that may take you years to master, but every time you do it your back will benefit.

Spinal Twist – this was the exercise Richard Hittleman suggested most often to bolster the back. He unfailingly emphasized the importance of a supple spine.

There are many more yogic asanas that can help tone, strengthen and stretch out the important bones and muscles of our back. Attending a yoga class is a great way to learn this valuable tool to back health. Regular yoga classes can teach you the proper way to do the postures and connect you with other people who are interested in not only the physical but also the emotional and spiritual components of this five thousand year old practice. Once you learn the postures you can practice at home so that you are helping yourself stay young and fit every day.

Our modern lives are busy and filled with much sitting around and lots of stressors. Our bodies and especially our backs take that inactivity and stress and do their best to keep us going. The wise and ancient practice of yoga can help keep our backs limber and our spirit strong.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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